The African continent is yet again identified as a haven for scarce resources and our oceans are touted as blue pills to solve the issues of jobs and struggling economies. There are several examples that prove that this incessant appetite for fossil fuels in the name of development is maintaining the status quo of enriching the few at the expense of indigenous communities and the health of ecosystems.
The growth and development on the continent can be achieved with clean energy. Resist fossil fuels. Find out about how coastal communities in Mozambique at the coalface of this oil and gas exploration have been affected and amplify their voices by supporting initiatives to halt oil and gas exploration.
It has been over a week since a Japanese vessel MV Wakashio carrying about 4000 metric tons of oil started leaking after it ran aground at Pointe d’Esny, Mauritius. Volunteers have been at the front-lines of the clean up operation with 1000 tons of oil spreading in the lagoon. France and Japan have deployed personal and provided resources to stop further leakage before the ship breaks and releases more oil. Environmental activists continue to mobilise communities in an effort to limit the damage by creating oil booms from sugarcane leaves and material they can find despite authorities asking residents to leave the clean-up to officials.
To find out more about the clean-up efforts and how you can contribute follow the following:
The arrival of the Deepsea Stavanger oil drilling rig in Cape Town yesterday, has many people concerned about the risks that comes along with it, especially as the current oil spill disaster in Mauritius (SA’s backyard) continues to wreak havoc. It is with this in mind that The Green Connection – an NGO working to support and empower local communities along the country’s coastline – calls on government to listen to the people and halt all further oil and gas exploration activities.
Total E & P South Africa are seeking a permit to drill an additional 10 wells, 40 to 110km south of Knysna and Mossel Bay, in water depths of 600 to 2000m. Oil spills from this offshore drilling could affect the Tsitsikama and Wilderness National Parks and many fish breeding areas.
The Green Connection’s Liziwe McDaid says, “What is happening to Mauritius is devastating. It could take decades for the ocean and the life it holds, as well as the affected Mauritian communities to bounce back, if they ever will. This should not be happening in 2020, with all we know about the devastating impacts of fossil fuels, which we continue to witness and experience, first-hand.”
“South Africa’s oceans are fundamental to the livelihoods of many people, including small-scale fishing communities, all along the coastline. Yet our governments and big corporations seem to ignore all the negative impacts to life, willing to sacrifice the wellbeing and livelihoods of the masses to enrich a few. This is why we emphatically reject oil and gas drilling and any further exploration. It is NOT for the greater good. And, since no technology is fool proof, South Africa – which we know is in no position to deal with any major catastrophe – would be wise to start moving away from these projects, before all our natural resources are contaminated and damaged,” says McDaid.
The Green Connection and its community partners, call on the South African government to halt all off shore oil and gas. Offshore oil and gas drilling is the process of drilling holes in the ocean seabed of the continental shelf or in lakes and inland seas. Up to now, there has been no meaningful public participation on these issues.
The Green Connection’s Neville Van Rooy says, “While Minister Gwede Mantashe may be celebrating the arrival of the oil rig, for South Africans this is a bad omen for a looming catastrophe. As we witness what is happening to Mauritius, we need to be aware that this could easily happen here too. Should we not first understand how all this drilling will affect the livelihoods of the people, especially those who rely on the ocean for their living?”
Mr Ntsindiso Nongqcavu Chairperson of Coastal Links Eastern Cape says that the community-based organisation – which helps small-scale fishers secure their livelihoods and their human rights – does not support oil and gas drilling in the ocean. “The South African government must consult us directly, not using online consultation. We as fishers do not have access to online public participation processes and we need to participate fully because their plans will affect us. Our lives. If government goes ahead without us, it will cause trouble for us. We need fish, not mining.”
“Mining kills the very environment that we live with. In my view, the government of South Africa must learn from other countries that have many problems now, as a result of oil and gas mining. Stop Operation Phakisa! We do not agree with it. We do not know what the destruction that it may cause,” adds Nongqcavu
Christie Links, a small-scale fisher in Saldanha Bay says, “The people who are making decisions about the ocean are people who seem to have no clue about the ocean. They have not relied on the ocean for their livelihoods, whereas fishers and the species that they seek, could all be affected. This is our place of work. If these areas are damaged as a result of oil pollution, where will we work? This will cause even more issues for us.”
Carmelita Mostert, from Langebaan says that fisher communities around the country should stand together and take the authorities to task. “The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing will have to take responsibility for the ongoing ocean grabbing, which further disadvantages the many small-scale fishers around the country.”
Recovery from COVID-19 is a collective issue just as beating the virus is. By wearing a mask and washing your hands, you are not only protecting yourself but also protecting others. What kind of just recovery do you envision for South Africa? This pandemic has exposed incredible inequalities, inadequacies and injustices. It has also reminded us of how powerful and enduring the human spirit can be. South Africa and the rest of the world should not only survive the pandemic but should thrive in a just society that recognizes the welfare of people and the environment above profits and greed. Challenge yourself by expressing the vision of a better South Africa through art!
Civil society recently celebrated a win when SLR Consulting, on behalf of Total E&P South Africa (TEPSA), granted respondents a 30-day extension to comment on the Draft Scoping Report for further oil exploration and drilling in Block 11B/12B, along the country’s South coast. The NGO The Green Connection and its partners recently attended a severely flawed public participation process, staging a virtual walk-out protest of the proceedings.
“At a time when South Africans are preoccupied with the COVID-19 pandemic, procedurally fair public participation will be a major challenge. We are also concerned about the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process being conducted during this time, especially since no open public meetings are allowed,” says The Green Connection’s Liziwe McDaid
According to McDaid, “Millions of South Africans could potentially be affected by the decisions taken by TEPSA and the government. Talking to a handful of people cannot be considered, by any stretch, to equal meaningful public participation. We understand that the lockdown has made things more complicated, but that does not mean that proper processes do not have to be followed. These actions could have far-reaching and long-lasting impacts, and should therefore, not be rushed.”
In a letter to SLR, PetroleumSA and the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy, The Green Connection points out that the Draft Scoping Report – a complex and information-heavy document –needs more time for comment. “The stakes are very high for the potentially-affected environment, and the project, which is already quite controversial, requires expert input, which will take time.
In addition to the unreasonable timelines, there have also been other issues. This includes the use of commercial newspapers and digital access to information, rather than using media – such as radio advertisements, local notices and hard copies of the EIA documentation in public spaces – that are more accessible to the affected communities.
“It seems that no efforts have been made to notify or provide information to historically disadvantaged communities and subsistence fishers living along the affected coastline. Yet, these are the people who would mostly be affected by any catastrophic incident, such as a wellhead blowout.
McDaid says that The Green Connection seeks a postponement of the entire EIA process, at least until the lockdown restrictions are lifted, or until such time as effective notice and meaningful opportunities for public participation are afforded to historically disadvantaged communities and subsistence fishers living along the Southern Cape coast.
TOTAL E&P SA is one of several oil and gas companies with a keen interest to tap into SA’s marine offshore oil and gas reserves. A scoping application to extend their current exploratory activities to drill 10 more deep wells is currently out for public comment. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and the national lockdown restrictions in place, the process is going ahead excluding the participation of those without access to the internet.
Given the increased risks of oil spills and leaks associated with deep drilling and the long-term impacts of fossil fuel emissions contributing to global climate change, is it justifiable for marine offshore oil and gas exploration to even take place? The south coast of South Africa experiences some of the roughest sea conditions attributed to the fast-moving Agulhas Current. The many shipwrecks are a testament of this reality.
A recent fire at the TOTAL Formosa Road storage facility at the Durban harbour two days ago puts doubt on the safety of such an undertaking. An accident of this nature could be catastrophic under rough seas and the impact long lasting as was the case in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill off the Gulf of Mexico 10 years ago where sea conditions are calmer. Is it justifiable to put existing livelihoods such as small-scale and commercial fishing and tourism at risk? Is it justifiable to compound the negative impact on our marine species and ecosystems? Who bares the true cost?
This World Ocean Day, fishing communities from around the country are calling on government to commit to legitimising the sector, as a matter of urgency, to protect the livelihoods of coastal communities who have been dependent on the ocean for generations. While the recent lift in lockdown restrictions on fishers from the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fishing (DEFF) is a welcome change, the issues experienced by South Africa’s small-scale fishers during this period, exposed a number of serious threats to their way of life.
According to Liziwe McDaid from the Green Connection – a NGO working with coastal communities to further empower them to protect our oceans, as part of its new Ocean Protection Campaign Who Stole Our Oceans? – fisher communities in Langebaan in the Western Cape and in Port St. Johns and Port Alfred in the Eastern Cape all experienced a host of challenges during the lockdown. This included being harassed by the military and police services, even with government permission to fish.
McDaid says, “While our initial focus is on protecting the oceans and raising awareness amongst coastal communities, including rights of small-scale subsistence fishers, from abuses by the Oil and Gas industries, the situation under lockdown was too dire to ignore. In all our conversations with fisher communities around the country, one of the key issues that came up over and over again, was that government took away their independence – that is, their ability to fish, for food or for sale – to make them dependent on insufficient and inconsistent hand-outs.”
Ntsindiso Nongcavu of Coastal Links in Port St Johns says, “To me the ocean means to be free and independent. It feels good that I am able to fish to feed myself and my family. This way I have dignity. I do not have to beg from anyone to put food on the table. And, when we work together as a community, sharing our catches or harvests, then we have a variety of seafood to choose from and everyone eats well. And, if everyone takes responsibility, through fishing we can also improve our local economy.”
“I come from a fishing family,” says Nongcavu. “Our family has been able to thrive, through fishing. While the methods of fishing may have changed over the years, our ability to be independent and live and make a living from the ocean, has not changed. Growing up, I remember, we did not have to buy too many things except what we could not produce those ourselves. That is our way of life, we live by doing things for ourselves, we don’t want to be dependent on others, and we want to live the way we have been and protect this place. We have been reliant on the ocean for many years.”
Phindile Phikani, also from Coastal Links in Port St. Johns says, “The first challenge was being locked-up at home, prohibited from fishing – our livelihood – and being told to wait for government assistance, which never arrives. In the rural areas especially, we are out of reach from government. This lack of support from government has led to other challenges, such as not being able to register our cooperatives. This meant that we could not fish, and many families in our community had to suffer with hunger, because of this.”
In other places like game reserves, fishers are caught no matter the documentation they carry. They are told that they are not permitted to enter due to lockdown. In Port Alfred, the South African Police Services (SAPS) even confiscated some fishers fishing equipment. Even though we asked for support from DEFF, no assistance was received. This only increased our troubles, because people were apprehended while trying to (legally) provide for their families,” adds Phikani.
Solene Smit, a fisherwoman from Langebaan, Chair of the regional branch of Coastal Links says that since small-scale fishers do not belong to a sector, there are no policies in place to govern the sector, and was a key reason that the Covid-19 lockdown was unnecessarily difficult for many local fishermen around the country.
“Imagine the stress for our communities when, with government permission to fish, members of the military abused our people and refused to let them fish. While we did have a session with Minister Barbara Creecy, during this period, far too many of our issues remained unresolved. Not only did they not give us sufficient information, DEFF offered no support to assist with the imminent issues we face,” says Smit.
Smit adds, “Our community did receive a once-off delivery of food parcels handed out during lockdown, while neighbouring towns continued to receive food parcels. What I do not understand is why the government took away our ability to fish, and therefore at least feed our families. Why did they want to make us dependent on handouts?”
Hilda Adams (based in Langebaan) from the umbrella movement, the SA Small Scale Fishers Collective says that local fishing communities were terribly unprepared for the lockdown, and that bureaucratic red tape – which affects much of the lives of our communities – have created even more issues.
“We could fish during lockdown, if you had a permit. But, to get this, fishers needed to travel far and needed to arrange for accommodation, and these places were all closed and people ended up with no permits during this period.”
In the wake of COVID-19, governments are scrambling to stabalise economies driven by fossil fuels. With a sharp drop in demand and price the disruption caused by COVID-19 has made it increasingly difficult to justify going back to the preCOVID-19 normal. An article by Oil Change International tables “Five Reasons Governments Must Act Now to Phase Out Oil and Gas Production“. This is an opportune time for governments to meaningfully commit towards sustainable development.
The 22nd of May marks the International Day of Biological Diversity and this year’s theme is a reminder of what we have always known, “Our solutions are in Nature”. This day was chosen by the UN (United Nations) to create an awareness and increase understanding about issues around biodiversity.
The recent World Bee Day commemoration (20 May 2020) reminded us that without natural pollinators like bees, food security could not be achieved. About 75% of global crop agriculture relies on animal pollination. About 10% of the worlds population depends directly on the ocean for protein and employment.
Biodiversity can be defined as the variety of animal and plant species within an area and the biological processes associated with those species. Given this definition, one can begin to see why it is important to be aware and understand issues around biodiversity, it is that which our livelihoods depend on. Threats to biodiversity pose a threat to human well-being, the environment and the economy in the long term.
According to the UN, approximately 25% of all plant and animal species are under threat of extinction. There are many factors that will increase this number, including but not limited to habitat destruction, pollution, poaching, over exploitation and climate change. In South Africa, the National Biodiversity Assessment 2018 reported that 13% of all assessed species on land and 18% of marine species are threatened.
South Africa is recognised globally as a biodiversity hotspot owing to the high levels of endimism (animals and plants found no where else). The CBD (Convention on Biological Diversity) reports that South Africa only covers 2% of the world land surface yet hosts 10% or the world’s plant species, 7% of the world’s reptile, bird and mammal species and 15% of the world’s marine species.
The importance of biodiversity can not be understated. In South Africa, there is a government research institution devoted to creating an awareness and understanding the value of biodiversity and ensuring that it is translated in policy, SANBI (South African National Biodiversity Institute). Furthermore in 2019, protected area coverage in the ocean increased to 5% from 0.4%, protecting offshore marine species and ecosystems that were not protected before.
The figures show that not all is lost but at risk if the necessary action is not taken to alleviate the pressures on the environment and increase protection. Think about all the benefits that you enjoy daily from the rich biodiversity. How can you do better to alleviate the pressures on our environment and how can you make your voice heard on how it should be better managed in your home, community, province or country for future generations to enjoy?
Recorded as the worst oil spill in U.S. history, exactly then years ago, the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster along the gulf of Mexico resulted in loss of human life (11 people) and environmental degradation on a monumental scale. Oceana compiled a report detailing the economic impacts on tourism, fishing and ultimately other jobs directly linked to incomes generated from these industries. Millions of marine animals killed and the environment heavily polluted, it will take decades for the environment to fully recover. The report also exposes inadequate mitigation measures and plans BP had in case such an event were to occur. The report further details responses by BP and government in dealing with this event, and the continued impact the spill has. Oil exploration continues even with the grave danger it poses. There is strong opposition against this move and a strong call to action to protect the oceans by all role player especially the Trump administration. For the full report go to: https://usa.oceana.org/publications/reports/hindsight-2020-lessons-we-cannot-ignore-bp-disaster